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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: What Can be Done About Restrictor Plate Racing?

There is a sense of anxiety before any NASCAR race, but events at the two restrictor plate racetracks have hearts pacing at an abnormally rapid rate.

This past weekend’s events at Talladega Superspeedway had a different vibe, one that has begun to raise more questions than plate races in the past. It sounds cliche, but every racecar driver knows the high risk of what they are about to do when they step behind the wheel on race day. It’s common sense. If they didn’t have the guts to do it, they wouldn’t.

As technology helps teams understand the aerodynamics of cars more and more year-after-year, speeds will increase and competition can go either two ways — increase or decrease. At the restrictor plate tracks, competition has increased, as shown this past weekend.

In a race that featured a level of intensity that is even rare for NASCAR, the potential rain near the halfway point of the race didn’t help. The race became increasingly intense, lap-after-lap. Going three and even four-wide at times, competition appeared to be different on Sunday, in a both good and bad way.

Now, the future rule packages for two of NASCAR’s most popular racetracks is in question, and a change might be imminent.

Q: This weekend’s races at Talladega were each more intense than year’s past, and the wrecks seemed worse than usual. Is there anything that can be done to make Daytona and Talladega less dangerous? – Drew R., Detroit. 

A: With anything that NASCAR does, it will take plenty of research and discussions to even come close to making a change. While I do not believe a change will happen this year, something will be done by the time NASCAR hits the high banks of Daytona

(Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)
Many cars became airborne during the races at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR is looking into why and what can be done to prevent it in the future. (Photo: John Harrelson/NKP)

International Speedway come February.

Think about it: There are always going to be major wrecks at Daytona and Talladega. It’s just a part of how the racing is, and frankly, it is a tradition at this point.

Having a major unknown come four races each year is somewhat refreshing, especially for smaller teams that usually have a shot at finishing no better than 30th at an intermediate track. Plus, the exposure a team can gain from running up front in high-profile events like Daytona and Talladega is priceless.

However, the danger of racing at these tracks is increasingly.

Drivers are at the point where they do not want to race at the plate events any more. Kyle Busch no longer races at plate tracks in lower level series after suffering multiple leg injuries last February in an XFINITY Series race at Daytona. Not only is he frightened to do so, but his wife, Samantha, won’t dare let him put himself in danger when he it has no championship implications.

Wait … So does that mean a driver should risk it all, even their life, just for a shot at making the Chase? That just seems ridiculous.

The safety measures that NASCAR has taken are a lot stronger than in the past. With most tracks adding SAFER Barriers all over the walls, drivers have a cushion. But at the same time, when a car gets airborne, that’s when things need to be looked at.

“You have to slow us way down — like 50 mph – or you’re going to have to let us run 250 there and get spread out,” Denny Hamlin proposed Monday during an event at the Concord Boys and Girls Club. “That’s the only way to avoid these massive wrecks. The reason we’re all wrecking in horrific fashion is because if someone gets turned sideways, there’s someone else right there to lift them off.

“As long as there are 20 cars in a one-second pack, it’s going to happen.We talk about this every two to three restrictor-plate races. There just is no fix because we haven’t done it yet. We don’t know. The only thing we can do from my standpoint and the ignorance I have is you have to slow us way down or speed us way up. We have to get spread apart. That’s the only way you’re not going to have these crazy crashes.”

Austin Dillon’s wreck last July at Daytona is just one mere example of what can go wrong. His No. 3 Chevrolet hit the catch fence on the final lap of the Coke-Zero 400, injuring five fans as debris went flying through the broken fence. Why should fans be at risk while watching a race? As ESPN’s Steven A. Smith would say, “it’s blasphemous.”

Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards had a similar incident on the final lap at Talladega in 2009. Then a rookie, the eventual Cup Series champion got into Edwards in the tri-oval, sending the No. 99 car flying into the fence while going nearly 200 mph. That’s just insane.

While Hamlin’s proposal of taking away horsepower from the racecars would prevent them from flipping. They might still go airborne a bit, but it would be unlikely that they reach the speeds capable of sending a car flipping through the air. However, the one problem with that proposal is that it’s against everything racing stands for. Why would one want to take away speed from a racecar? It’s a

2016 Martinsville I CUP Denny Hamlin radar Nigel Kinrade NKP
Denny Hamlin has a couple of suggestions on how to potentially prevent large restrictor plate wrecks in the future. Unfortunately, neither of them appear likely to be adapted in the short-term. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

racecar, after all.

“You look at speedway racing 15 to 20 years ago, and the outside line was running the outside and the inside on the inside,” Hamlin explained. “Now we give each other no room for error anymore. We give each other inches in the corner. The person on the top is just sucking down on the door of the guy on the bottom.”

And that’s what NASCAR needs to aim to get back to. The racing at super speedways 15 to 20 years ago featured a field that was spread out, but did not feature a great difference between the front and back of the field.

There have been murmurings of NASCAR attempting to take the restrictor plates off the racecars, but good luck doing that. Seriously, good luck. The low-tier teams wouldn’t have a chance to keep up with the ones with giant power plants under the hood. Additionally, the racing would probably be rather dull. Also, good luck explaining to fans why a driver is hurt after blowing a tire at 250 mph, because it would happen given the banking and age of the surface at Daytona and Talladega.

Said Hamlin: “We’re good, but we’re not that good. We can’t keep the car in a 1-foot space on all four corners. It’s just something we created by the way we’re driving. We’re trying to find every advantage that we can with air, and we have to use that space to get advantages. So I think drivers are just smarter than what they were back then, and until we get spread out, I just don’t know of a good solution.”

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kb

Not a fan of Hamlin’s, but I give him and anybody else who speaks out against the establishment known as Brian. Good for them.

Brian

There is really only one thing that will “fix” restrictor plate racing that is getting the drivers to stop banging into each other.
One possible scenario would be go back to short track roots where in many cases officials determine who actually caused the caution and send them to the back and others affects at times get their spot back.

This is especially true if it can be deemed pretty clear who did what. Case in point, the 41 pushing the 48 slightly wrong and sending him right into the 27. Also with the 10 and 95 cars.

Drivers would police themselves a whole lot better if the instigator gets a “punishment” as well. How many times over the years has one driver spun out another causing a wreck or at minimum a caution without consequence to them?

Jeremy

I think you have to really address the handling of the cars – to the point these guys (and gal) have to let off in the corners and work to control it in the turns. Take the rear spoiler completely away. Remove the front splitter. Make them run all grilles in front full open (no taping). Make them sit up off of the bump stops and bring the suspension back in play. If that’s not enough, have Goodyear make harder, skinnier tires for them to run on. Then pull the plates and see what happens (during a test, of course). If it don’t work, all they’re out is a day of testing and the man hours to remove parts (with the exception of the tire piece).

Otherwise, maybe it’s time Talladega and Daytona go old school and get back to being “proving grounds” for manufacturers. Make them run factory prepared production cars at these tracks, and limit them to whatever engine/transmission the basic, entry level trim package on the show room has in it. Make them run stock, off the shelf suspension components too. Those cars would have a lot of room for improvement and perhaps years of development before speeds got too fast for these big tracks again. Give the manufacturers some skin back in the game, and some REAL bragging rights for their dealer networks!

Pounder

Just run the road courses at both tracks — that will seperate the cars a bit each lap, then , they’ll form back up again on the backstretch and thru 3&4 etc — Won’t even need plates and won’t cost much to anyone.
The Rolex 24 at Daytona does it very well .

Pounder

Just run the road courses at both tracks. Works very well for the Rolex 24.
That will seperate the field a bit, and the’ll still form up again for a bit going thru 3&4
Won’t need plates and will be VERY cost effective, and still provide interesting racing.

Pounder

Just run the road courses at both tracks.
That will break up the packs a bit, and they can “almost” form back up again for a bit going thru 3&4.
The Rolex 24 provides good racing and, this way, wouldn’t need the plates, and would be very cost effective.

Fan since '83

I like that idea very much. I might start watching races at Daytona and Talladega again if they made those changes.

Terry

I sure wonder if one of the best things to do for these plate tracks – go back to single file restarts, lap cars inside. 10 or less laps, single file lap cars at tail. Like I recall it used to be. Double file restarts are not a good idea. And if the sanctioning body really wants to institute ‘safety’, then this change should be top of the list. For both consideration and implementation. Wasn’t there some earlier discussion about, we implemented the double file restarts to make it more fun for the fans? Well let’s make it safer for the drivers, and I believe the racing would be better.

Charles

There’s one thing I think NASCAR can do to make the later stages of the plate races somewhat safer, and that’s to go to a caution flag method USAC used at Indy in the 1970s, and that’s a P.A.C.E.R. light system. What happened back then was that if a caution came out, the field would slow down, but would not be allowed to bunch up behind the leader.

How that was managed was that the proper caution flag speed was governed by number postings of 0-9, and if a driver saw a certain number when the caution came out, that’s the number he should see upon passing each number display during the caution period. If he saw a lower number than the previous number he saw on the previous display, he was going too fast, but if he saw a higher number, he was going too slow. That would keep the field from bunching up during caution periods in plate races. A side effect of that would be that it would also greatly deter the practice of drivers laying back and risking losing the draft, because they would be in danger of getting so far behind once out of the draft that they might never be able to catch up using a P.A.C.E.R. light system, which would also mean fewer cars bunched up on late-race restarts, thus reducing, but certainly not eliminating the chances of a major late race crash.

However, huge crashes are always going to be a part of plate racing, because of the side effects of having to slow the cars down. Huge crashes have occurred at Talladega as early as lap 4 (2003 Spring Race) and at Daytona as early as the beginning of lap 2 of the 1990 Firecracker 400, when two-thirds of the field were wiped out. But they have to keep the cars slowed down to just under 200 MPH, or they simply can’t race at Daytona or Talladega. It’s as simple as that. Cars going airborne at Daytona and Talladega have been a problem since they were downsized in 1981, and will continue to be as long as they continue to race there.

Fan since '83

Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of ‘racing’ at Daytona and Talladega. The fact that running last for the first 180 laps is a viable strategy pretty much says it all. What is the point in watching a 4-hour race where the first 3 1/2 hours don’t really matter? NASCAR makes a big deal about tall the lead changes at these tracks – but unlike any other track on the circuit, lead changes at these tracks are completely inconsequential. Fixing Daytona and Talladega is easy – just take them off the schedule and replace them with tracks less than 1 mile in length. Or do like Pounder suggested and run the road courses. Ever since the plates were introduced the entire original concept of a 2.5 mile track has been lost. Let’s just end the charade and call it a day.

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